20 June 2014

We were once a civil and progressive country, but day by day, it seems like we are no longer the country we once were.

THERE are many things that I love about this country that I was born in and have lived in my whole life. But when it starts to give me knots in my stomach and a constant feeling of dread, I can’t help but wish it were another type of country, one where everybody feels easy and comfortable living in it.

It would be all right if things that happen actually make sense but every day things make less and less sense. I am starting to dream about living in a different type of country where everyone can go their own way and live in peace without harassment from anyone.

In another type of country, people are not afraid to apologise when they’ve done something wrong. Indeed, they come out as more honourable people. Instead, we have people whose main stock in trade is hubris. It is what makes them unable to lift charges against people who have done no wrong, leaving them forever in suspended animation.

Hubris is what makes some people unable to backtrack on a mistake they made, finding ever more convoluted justifications for it. Pure arrogance is what makes them dis- obey court orders and say they answer to nobody else. Never mind that this is exactly the sort of attitude that leads to the anarchy that they themselves fear.

In another type of country, the police would just follow the law and not think up interpretations that keep them sitting on their hands in the face of injustice. Especially, when it involves children and the mothers they should always be with, by any type of law.

If this was another type of country, when people have been slack at their jobs and this led to many fatalities, they would resign. We now know that had some people paid better attention and taken quick action, the fate of MH370 might not be still a mystery today more than 100 days after it disappeared.

In another country, the highest officials in charge of our skies would have stepped down from their jobs because that is the honourable thing to do. But who cares about honour or respect in this country?

If we were another type of country, we would stop declaring war on our own people. The so-called war on drugs has stopped neither drug trafficking nor drug addiction. Now, we are going to have a war on the homeless.

Without understanding the reasons why people are living on the streets, a war on them would be akin to waging a war on refugees and blaming host countries for being too generous while doing nothing about the violence in their home countries that drove them to leave in the first place. But it is so much easier to declare war than to wage peace. Ask George Bush.

If we were a rational, compassionate country, we would be declaring a war on the increasing violence against women and children and stop the abuses, gang rapes, kidnappings and murders. How do our officials tasked with protecting women and children justify their existence otherwise?

If we were a sensible country, we would stop lauding the mean and the vile as heroes. We would stop fearing the consequences of showing compassion and fairness towards those suffering injustice. We would just be plain decent folk doing the right thing by people.

If we were a normal country, we would never be proud of being unable to control ourselves and possibly inflicting violence on others. We would never insist on having laws to keep ourselves under control, even while we claim to be pious.

In fact, normal people are usually ashamed to describe themselves as having potential for violence. But we are not living in a normal country anymore.

If this was another country, the very idea of chopping off anyone’s hands for stealing or stoning people for adultery would be too repulsive to even discuss. But today, these punishments are what people seriously think will solve all our problems. The bankruptcy of ideas is there for all to see.

If this were a place where things made sense, a woman could never be divorced years after her husband died. Or get her wedding interrupted by officials from another religion. Or had her burial delayed because of a long-forgotten alleged conversion. Or had her underaged children taken away from her by a husband who converted to another religion. Isn’t it funny how these things always seem to happen to women?

Yet we were once a civil and progressive country. Where people respected one another and got on fine. Once we eschewed violence of any kind, and certainly not on one another. Today, we even go to foreign countries and blow ourselves up.

We are no longer the country we once were. The question is, why?

06 June 2014

Without knowing the underlying causes for such violence, how would we be able to prevent it?

LAST week was a particularly horrific and sad week in our country. A man abused his toddler stepson to death. A killer made a little girl his gruesome victim. Over 10 men and boys raped a teenage girl. The mother of another teenager, who was raped by two men, whipped one of the men in public.

As if these horrors were not bad enough, a little girl accidentally fell to her death in a shopping mall.

Most of us would be forgiven for thinking that the entire country needs a flower bath to get rid of what seems to be a dark cloud hovering over us.

But maybe we are not far wrong because there do seem to be bad vibes over our land, fuelled by so much aggravation, angst and animosity among us. Perhaps we are spending so much time arguing over things that don’t really matter that we have neglected what really does matter.

And what does matter? For one thing, the safety of our people, especially our women and children, matters very much.

Every time something as dreadful as child abuse, rape or murder happens, a huge outcry ensues and many newspaper column inches are written anguishing about it, with calls for ever more severe punishment for perpetrators.

Indeed, such perpetrators must be caught and punished so that we all feel safe again.

Let us not forget that the killer of little Nurin Jazlin has never been caught. But let’s also do more about prevention.

Prevention involves investigating and understanding the circumstances under which these crimes happen.

Do people really wake up and think of killing their children that day? Or is that the tragic result of a build-up of stresses and strains that could have been mitigated if only there was help?

Could a rape by people known to a victim have been averted by more vigilant neighbours, directly or indirectly, or by an environment that was different?

If the mother of the murdered child had not been homeless, would the child have fallen prey to the killer so easily?

I really wish our media would probe these cases a bit more deeply. What would cause a whole group of men and boys to band together to rape that young girl?

It was reported that they were high on drugs. What goes on in that village that there can be so many men taking drugs and assaulting girls with impunity?

Is there a larger problem here of unemployment, boredom and rep­ression? In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s mass murders, there were a lot of articles analysing his motivations and mental state.

I wish there were also the same not just for this gang rape, but also the others to see if there are some underlying causes for this violence. Without knowing these causes, how would we prevent it?

Regarding the child who died of abuse, once again we should look at the backstory. There can never be an excuse for child battery but when you look at a young, twice-married mother with many children, you can see how the stresses of such circumstances may make a person snap.

Not all young parents abuse their children, but very often those who do tend to have married and had their children at a young age.

Perhaps they were married off to prevent illicit sex, with no contraceptive advice and little preparation for parenthood.

This particular mother was only 31 and the dead child, aged six, was her fourth. Did her husband find the needs of her children taking away her attention from him?

To me, it’s yet another reason to not allow young people to marry before they are ready for the many responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.

The background of the mother of the murdered child is also a sad tale. With her husband in prison, she was left with three young children and no way of caring for them.

Leaving two with relatives, she was left homeless with her youngest and spent all her time wandering the city and living on the generosity of friends.

Where is our Welfare Department for vulnerable families of prisoners like these? When we send men to prison, do we check on how their families would survive? Or don’t we care?

Our many social problems need to be examined in a much more holistic way than they are now. But that takes intelligence, leadership and compassion.

There can’t be anything more callous than a Minister who blames homelessness on the “generosity of Malaysians”, as if to live on the dangerous streets is a lifestyle choice. Perhaps she should spend a night serving at soup kitchens.

As long as such arrogant blindness prevails, we will never solve these problems. And the violence will continue.